Subject: The NONS missed the boat 20 years ago

Richard Dorall

Dear RPK, I refer to your article “The NONs missed the boat 20 years ago” dated March 4, 2012. I do not know what multi-ethnic consultation held 20 years ago on the NEP that you are referring to? I do know that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad appointed in 1989 some 150-Malaysians (of which I was one) representing all sectors of Malaysian society, all political parties including the opposition and from the BN, civil society organisations, NGOs, academics, etc, which was called the Majlis Perundingan Ekonomi Negara or MAPEN (National Economic Consultative Council or NECC) to debate behind closed doors at the PWTC the New Economic Policy (launched in 1970, and due to end in 1990), and to propose its alternative.

Members of MAPEN (NECC) certainly interpreted what we were doing as engaging in the third edition of the Malaysian Social Contract (the first before independence, the second deliberated by the consultative council set up in the immediate aftermath of the May 13, 1969 incident, and which gave rise to the New Economic Policy, and now the third at the end of the NEP 20-year period).

The MAPEN (NECC) deliberated for longer than originally planned by Government, and it submitted to Mahathir’s Government (the cabinet) a long document detailing the consensus agreed upon by all parties involved in the consultation, proposing a New Development Policy to replace the NEP which all agreed had ended its course. Mathathir, as you may well know, used the withdrawal of a few members of MAPEN (including, if my memory serves me correctly, the DAP and some other “oppositionists” who were acting, they said, on “principle”) to conclude that he need not abide by all the MAPEN declarations as laid out in a detailed document, and he announced his own version of the post-NEP Government policy which he called “Wawasan 2020“.

I want to point out that ALL the ruling government parties, and their supporters, agreed with the consensus document worked out by MAPEN, and they so formally indicated their acceptance of those proposals. The UMNO delegation was headed by Abdullah Badawi, and he was on the drafting committee that worked on the final MAPEN document and its proposals. The delegation representing UMNO (including, among others, Badawi, Sharizat, Mr bow-tie, Shahidan) accepted the compromise document and its proposed post-NEP Development Policy. So did everybody else.

MAPEN deliberations behind closed doors we were told would be free from the laws of sedition, etc, and members were encouraged to freely speak their minds behind those closed doors, but not to do so outside. It was quickly evident to all of us, the major problem was between those representing (or so they claimed) Malay interests, and what these persons declared were the target of their venom, “the Chinese”.

I cannot recall any statements made during the MAPEN that can be construed as having been directed more broadly at the “Non-Malays,” meaning the Chinese, Indians and others. In fact, when it became clear that the deliberations were going to be dominated by a Malay-Chinese dialectic, and that other Non-Malays were not the “target,” the non-Malay, non-Chinese delegations (including myself) decided to let the two Gajah in the room fight it out while we, the mousedeers, would sit by in relative physical safety and wait.

The Chinese, too, knew what was going on, and adopted Muhammad Ali’s famous rope-a-dope strategy. They too sat by, and let the extremists in UMNO and its supporting organisations talk, and talk, and talk ad infinitum, until they literally burnt themselves out. The “moderate” Malay voices, of which there were many, also did likewise, and bided their time, by letting the “extremists” shout-out what they wanted, until these vociferous persons got fed up of hearing themselves repeat their blustering like some broken phonograph record.

I was sitting right next to one of the most vocal of these “Malay extremists.” I am not going to repeat what he said. But imagine the worst anybody can say about the Chinese, and he said it. However, I have always wondered whether he ever actually meant what he was ranting and raving about. In plenary sessions, when he would say the most startling of things, yelling and screaming at the top of his voice, yet minutes later, during the tea-breaks, he would sidle up to the Chinese towkays he had been threatening only minutes earlier, and engage in happy conversation about deals to promote his motorcycle dealership!

Now, I have been wondering all of these years, which of these two personalities, Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde, was that Datuk truly? The one foaming at the mouth in plenary sessions? Or the one quite happily chatting business deals with the impassive, straight-faced Chinese members during the tea-breaks? If I were a Chinese I would have slapped him in the face if he insulted me one minute, and then approached me for business deals the very next minute! But I saw no Chinese slap him! In fact, they all appeared to be the best of friends (during the tea-breaks) when it came to discussing business opportunities.

The one major Malay-based organisation attending the MAPEN that impressed me most by their moderation, was the PAS delegation. I do not recall the PAS delegates race- or religion-baiting anyone during the plenary sessions, or outside the plenary sessions. I cannot say the same of the (many, but not all) UMNO delegates and their supporters. By the way, I can recall Sharizat, Shahidan and other UMNO delegates making their interventions during the MAPEN plenary deliberations. I cannot recall anything outstanding from Abdullah Badawi! Perhaps, he was practising even then in those early years, the fine art of falling asleep!

Again, RPK, the issue then (when discussing the end of the NEP, and its replacement in the 1990s) was, I repeat, NOT a Malay-Non-Malay issue. It simply was not. It was a UMNO-led Malay versus CHINESE issue. I cannot recall the Indians, the Lain-Lain, etc, ever coming under such sustained criticism as did, it must be admitted, the Chinese. And, the Chinese using their version of the rope-a-dope strategy just sat there passively, and allowed their “opponents” to eventually wear themselves out.

Clever, you must admit? And when they (the extremists) all got tired of ranting and raving, the moderate Malays (including those in UMNO) came to the fore, and worked out the consensus that was eventually forwarded to the cabinet as the proposed development policy for the post-NEP era, and, as far as I am concerned, the third edition of Malaysia’s “Social Contract”.

That is how I recall the end of the NEP in 1990 was handled.

Richard Dorall, National Economic Consultative Council Member 1989-1990

EDITOR: There were two forums. One was the Kongres Ekonomi Bumiputera ke-3 that I wrote about and the second was the MAPEN committee that Richard Dorall spoke about.